Christian Communism

“And all who believed were together and had all things in Common.  And they were selling their possessions and  belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.  And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people and the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”  (Acts 2:44-47).

There it is; the best expression of what I call Christian communism that I find in the Bible.  Of course, it is easy to take one or two verses of Scripture and build a theology around it.  I remember well that several years ago the ‘Prayer of Jabez’ was very popular with a set of Christian folk.  That prayer took place in ancient times, whether in Judah or Israel, during the unified kingdom or even before the kingdom founded by Saul I don’t know.  Suffice it to say that Jabez lived a long time ago.  Jabez is famous for the following prayer:  “Jabez called upon the Lord of Israel, saying ‘Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!’ And God granted what he asked.”  (I Chron. 4:10).  “Name it and claim it” became a big player in Christian circles when that verse was found and, in my opinion, sold as a magical incantation used for the purpose of manipulating God into playing the role of celestial sugar daddy.  It is with that episode in mind that I venture into this topic with caution, stating up front that my thoughts are incomplete and I am open to considerable input from people better versed in the Bible than I am.

Acts 2 is a lot closer to Jesus than is I Chronicles, but regardless of that, Christians will by and large agree that the whole story told in both the Old Testament and the New point to Jesus as the apex and culmination of God’s plan to straighten out the unholy mess that humankind, God’s peak of creation, has made of things.  The people leading that band of early Christians (they weren’t called that yet) were eleven of the twelve who had spent three continuous years with Jesus, learning day and night by word and deed what Jesus was about, and while they still didn’t get all of it right, they certainly had more insight into the mind of God than I do, and they report the utopian situation in Acts 2 and the effect that it had on the greater community

OK, so Jabez was a long time before Jesus and Acts was after Jesus’ death and ascension into heaven.  What then did Jesus Himself have to say about this, if anything?  There are two things that stand out to me in the Gospels that address this topic; one is found in Luke 3:10-14, and the other is in three of the four gospels.  I will look at those two sources as they appear in the Gospel of Luke, one of which is actually a quote of John the Baptist, whom Jesus referred to as the greatest of all the prophets, and the other a teaching of Jesus Himself, and explore what these might mean to me.

In Luke 3:10-14 a bunch of the One Percenters in Jerusalem came to John, whom they distrusted in the first place, and asked him what they should do to live in accordance with God’s will.  I’ll let John answer in his own words.  “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”  Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him “Teacher, what shall we do?  And he said to them ‘Collect no more than you are authorized to do.’”  “Soldiers also asked him ‘And we, what shall we do?’  And he said to them ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusations, and be content with your wages.”

Now tax collectors made their living by collecting taxes for the Roman occupiers, and they grew fat by using the might of Rome to scare citizens into paying whatever they demanded and keeping whatever was above the Roman requirement for themselves.  Most Jews in Palestine had no idea what the real tax for them was because they would rather be dead than caught speaking with a gentile; especially a Roman.  John told the tax collectors to do their job, be fair, and live on what they rightfully earned.

Soldiers were a different breed of cat.  Temple police were allowed to exist by the occupying force but the only real soldiers allowed in the Empire were Roman soldiers and Judah, like it or not, was in the Empire.  It is therefore interesting that soldiers were speaking to a Jewish prophet at all, and especially one wearing coarse clothes and eating grasshoppers in the desert.  Nevertheless, there they were, and they asked John what they should do.  John, with a truly Christian concern for all humanity, replied to these unclean, uncircumcised gentiles who had shields and Roman short swords and said “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusations, and be content with your wages.”

The threat part is easy to figure out.  Roman soldiers had spread the borders of the Empire from the Atlantic to east of Mesopotamia and from the border with Pictland (Scotland) to the Sahara Desert.  These guys could threaten, and then carry out their threats!  God, through John, said “Stop it!”  “Do what is right and be content with your wage” is how I read it.

Finally, in Luke 18:18-30, a good Jewish boy who happened to be very rich came to Jesus and asked what he must do to be saved.  Jesus told him to obey all sorts of laws and the guy said “Yeah, I’ve done all of that,” or words to that effect.  Then Jesus dropped the hammer on him.  “One thing you still lack.  Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

Shazzam!  That ain’t gonna happen.  The rich Jew couldn’t pull the trigger on that deal and even Jesus’ disciples were blown away by His statement.  Jesus was making a point – and again this is in my own opinion – that if you are tied more tightly to your ‘stuff’, your material things, than you are to God, you are not fully getting the picture.  And that leads me into the body of my thoughts on all of this.

Jesus does not seem to be very impressed with people’s stuff.  People in general He cares about; you know, dying for us and all of that.  But our stuff?  Not so much.  Jesus had no home (today this is called being homeless).  He gave most of what He had to the poor (that, today, is called being stupid).  His early followers did the same, selling off their possessions and giving the funds to “all that had need.  Jesus did not seem to be opposed to working and earning a living.  To tax collectors John said “Collect”, and to soldiers John said “Soldier”, and Jesus seemed to agree, since He went to John for his own baptism.

So what does all of this mean to me in the twenty-first century?  Well, I don’t really know.   That is why I am writing this and asking for input from any who read it and feel moved to share their opinions.  The upshot to me, however, is that Jesus would rather than I live in a small house, take short, local vacations, eat humble meals, wear clothes until they wear out rather than go out of style, and in general ‘live simply so that others might simply live.’

Let me state up front that this model does not describe me very well.  I have enjoyed two vacations in Europe and three in Hawaii.  My house is nearly 1,400 square feet, I love to eat out and do so often, and if I want a book, a bottle of wine, a new garden tool or a cup of coffee at the coffee shop where I sit at the moment of this writing I indulge myself, so I am a far cry from the Christian communist that I am speaking of in this essay.  At least my clothes are old!  I am therefore not throwing out judgements that do not equally apply to me.  In fact, I am not throwing out judgements at all.  I am asking questions.

Simply put, I am asking whether or not the role of a Christ follower in the twenty-first century is to radically share his or her money, or stuff, with those who have need, to the Church first and then to the world.  Instead of clawing to get and keep our share of the pie and then voting for somebody who promises to keep our nation a Christian country, if we Christians poured ourselves into the needs of the community, feeding all who are hungry and clothing all who are cold regardless of how they came to be in their condition, I believe that the surrounding culture would look at us first as if we’ve lost our minds, but in time as people who believe what they say and say something worth believing.  Soon, I suspect, the Lord would be adding to our number daily those who believe, and that is what I call a ‘church growth plan.’

In my community our local public utility runs what they call “Operation Warm Heart.”  This charity provides funds to keep on the water and electricity when a resident is not able to pay for it.  Imagine if the Church in my community lived simply and gave its surplus to the charity.  Put simply, no poor senior citizen would ever have to decide whether to be able to flush their toilet or keep their medications cold in the refrigerator.

At a high school nearby, where something like 60% or more of the student body is receiving free or reduced lunches, there is a Family Resource Center where food and clothing and bus passes and so forth are dispensed as such items are donated, and one paid staff member and volunteers will sit and talk with the kids and, more important, listen to them.  Imagine a frugal Church pouring material resources and, more important, their time and their lives into the lives of these kids!  What would this say about the Church and the God Whom we say that we worship?  Probably more than planning my next trip to Hawaii while I say “Go in peace, be warmed and filled” does.

Examples abound but I believe that I’ve made my point as well as I can.  The resources which have been given by God to His Church in my community are enough to make a tremendous dent in the mountain of pain and want that afflicts many people here, each one of them loved by God and created in His image no matter what they have done or how they have repaid God for His love.  A giving, serving Church would soon shed the negative image that it has earned in the minds of many and create an environment where the Church, as a messenger of God’s love and desire to reconcile heaven and earth, might once again be listened to and believed.

As I wrote earlier I am not a theologian, and do not know if the Bible supports this interpretation.  I certainly do know that the American economic structure and what our society calls “common sense” do not, and I confess that I am as attached to my stuff as is the next person.  It just seems to me that the Bible speaks of a greater concern with people than with things, and this essay is my poor and imperfect expression of that view.

One thought on “Christian Communism

  1. I didn’t really start studying the Bible as His Word until the year 2007. Even though I was raised as a Christian and went to Sunday School, I somehow lost my way and turned to New Age philosophy and denied Christ for over three decades. It has been a joyful journey returning to His Word. He was chasing after me and finally revealed Himself to me through His Word. I started reading the Bible and taking Bible studies. I find the history and thousands of manuscripts to be evidence enough for my recommitment to Christ. I know I was saved when I was about twelve years old, but the seed of doubt about being brainwashed was planted by the enemy through my biological sister who was rather mixed up, to say the least. I had been offered the free gift of grace, accepted it through faith, and then threw it back in His face years later by not becoming part of the Body of Christ which is His church.

    I am so blessed to be part of a church that reaches out to the homeless, the sick, the dying, the disenfranchised, the hungry, and to people going through hard times. Being Christians doesn’t mean we will not experience tough circumstances. We do what we can do with a cheerful heart and then God will bless us with more opportunities to share our heart and his love. That’s what the prayer of Jabez is all about. It’s not about the Gospel of Prosperity. That is absolutely wrong and should never be embraced. When we ask God to expand our territory, it means we are willing to go where He is already working and to join Him in what He is doing. If that means going without a glass of wine or that delicious cup of coffee from time to time in order to help out someone in need then that is good for the soul and a blessing God is giving us. He is also blessing the person we are helping. On the other hand, God does not want us to feel guilty because we have worked hard and are enjoying the benefits of our hard work. He just wants us to be willing to share some of it with others.

    I live in a lovely single story house of over 2,000 square feet. It’s in Texas and I would rather be in San Diego, but God has expanded my territory because I made that request. I prayed the prayer of Jabez for what it is really all about. It’s about allowing God to bless me with opportunities to share my good fortune, not about making more money or accumulating wealth. My husband and I are debt free. I tithe and I give offerings. I volunteer.

    I got rid of my Keurig coffee maker and now filter coffee I grind myself and then filter through Melita filters. That contraption kept breaking down anyway. Costco is a blessing. We got our money back. I almost never buy Starbucks coffee anymore. It’s just too expensive. I started adding up how much those pods were costing and realized I didn’t need to spend money that way anymore. I do buy Starbucks coffee, I love cafe lattes, when I am at an airport. It is a treat and not a regular habit. I praise the Lord that I actually prefer grinding the coffee and going through that little ritual of brewing my own cup. My husband loves it too, and we used to love those pods.

    Maybe, what God might want us to do is carry our Bible around and read from it when we are in those coffee shops and strike up a conversation with someone who might not know who Jesus Christ is. I have always wanted to buy one of those t-shirts that reads: “My lifeguard walks on water.”

    Maybe God wants us to ask a homeless person if he or she would like a cup of coffee and then invite them to lunch and church. Those Christian life groups usually have potlucks or free food. We share what we have and what we can share with a cheerful heart. God would rather not have us share anything unless we feel blessed by doing so.

    I have given homeless people money and food, but that is as far as I have gone as an individual. I have worked in food pantries and collected food from Christian neighbors to distribute to people going through hard times. I could do more. I have prayed for them and over them in their hour of need. I could do more. I heard a father whose heart was breaking because he was out of a job and for the first time was unable to put food on the table for his wife and children and they were struggling. Our church helped them. We could do more. Church is a good place to start. We can put them in touch with resources and pray for them. I get high on the miracles I see God performing for His glory. I do not feel guilty when I have a glass of wine. I feel blessed that I never developed expensive taste buds for wine. Now, beer is a different story. I like an expensive import so I drink it as a treat now and then. I do not feel guilty in these pleasures. Feeling guilty is believing the lies of satan. I refuse to capitalize his name.

    Please don’t feel guilty because you like to travel and take vacations. You’ve earned them. You are blessing people, friends, and family who love you. You are sharing your love for the Lord. God showered people with material wealth for His glory not theirs. He will show you how to use it if you have it. He just doesn’t want us to love money. He wants us to love Him above all others and share His love with others. Sounds to me like you are already doing that. Drop the guilt.

    I guess I don’t like the word communism because of how it is associated with atheists of Russia and other countries. Pure communism that comes from being a believer is harder to live up too. I am not selling my house and giving away all of my possessions in order to use that money to help the poor. However, I do listen for God’s invitations to do what I can do with a cheerful heart and join Him in what He is already doing in and outside of churches. He knows when to expand my territory and how. He does cause me to stretch, and I say, “Ouch,” sometimes but I am always blessed in return when a heartfelt smile or tears of joy and gratitude are shared for some small contribution I have made. I have a lot of time. Volunteering doesn’t cost me a thing other than the cost of gas. I drive a paid-for-Prius that gets 50 mpg. Gas at Costco was $1.41 per gallon yesterday. But, it’s Texas and not California.

    I was blessed with beautiful weather yesterday and was able to open all the windows for the entire day and into the evening. I’d rather be driving a Mercedes and living in San Diego. God has other plans for me. He has expanded my territory and made me rich with His blessings. I live an abundant life in Him. I wish I had figured that out a little sooner in life. God is showing me how to live better with less. I have way too much stuff. I have made teeny tiny sacrifices in the big scheme of things. I could do more but I will take it one day at a time.

    I think I will make an extra offering in the church offering box next Sunday. Maybe, what I would have paid for an extra glass of wine or a cup of expensive coffee would be a nice thing to do. Who knows how I will feel the following week. I will follow God’s lead. Maybe He would rather I volunteer an extra hour instead of being on Facebook too much. But, I do use it to share my love for Him, in addition to my sarcastic and weird sense of humor; so it can’t be all bad.

    Blessings <

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